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Turkey Calls For New Elections Amid Fighting With Kurds, ISIS

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Here is a story of hardcore politics. Turkey's ruling party wants a do-over. The party held elections for parliament in June, but ended up losing seats. So now the government is calling a new vote in November to try to win back the seats it lost. Many of those losses were to a party favored by ethnic Kurds. Those are the seats the government wants back, and the campaign to recapture them comes just as Turkey's security forces are fighting Kurdish militants. That has people asking if a fair vote can be held, so NPR's Peter Kenyon went to the Kurdish region to find out.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: It's hard for people in the old walled city of Diyarbakir to think about politics these days. Almost every night, residents are kept up by fighting between Kurdish militants and security forces. Sixty-eight-year-old Kurd Emine Altan says normal life is impossible.

EMINE ALTAN: (Through interpreter) It's like a dungeon here. We're trapped in our houses. We can't go out. Our children are getting hurt.

KENYON: Sitting in the courtyard of her family home, Altan blames Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the unrest. He used harsh anti-Kurd rhetoric before elections two months ago. But that backfired as gains by a pro-Kurdish party cost the ruling party its majority in parliament. Now Erdogan is calling for new elections November 1, and Altan says military operations against Kurds seem to be the centerpiece of the campaign.

ALTAN: (Through interpreter) If Erdogan's so eager to win his election, fine, do the election. There's no need to kill our kids.

KENYON: Analysts say Erdogan is gambling that violence in the southeast will drain support from the pro-Kurdish HDP. That's the party that won the surprisingly-strong showing two months ago. The unrest is a concern all the way to Washington, which is counting on Turkey's support in the fight against the Islamic State next door in Syria. But if Erdogan hoped battles with the Kurds would win votes for the ruling party, so far the polls are showing only a slight boost, and the pro-Kurdish party's still strong. But Nejdet Ipekyuz, at the Diyarbakir Center for Political and Social Research, says between now and November, circumstances could easily change for the worst, as far as the Kurds are concerned.

NEJDET IPEKYUZ: (Through Interpreter) But we also have to consider another possibility - that the security situation gets so bad that it's impossible to even hold elections in this part of the country.

KENYON: Diyarbakir co-mayor Firat Anli says this is something very much on the minds of HDP leaders.

FIRAT ANLI: (Through interpreter) We are very concerned about this. Holding free elections may not in the end be possible. What we see now are police checkpoints, the army everywhere, closed military zones where civilians can't go. We wonder if they'll have elections at all.

KENYON: Erdogan and the AKP insist the voting will go ahead. One of the most heavily guarded buildings in Diyarbakir is the AKP headquarters, one more sign of the escalating tensions. Inside, the party's district chairman Muhammed Akar says the current military operations in the southeast are not intended to disrupt the campaign - quite the contrary.

MUHAMMED AKAR: (Through interpreter) Our priority is the security of our citizens. That's why you're seeing these military operations. They're aimed at creating secure conditions so that people can cast their votes freely. I really hope we don't need stronger military intervention.

KENYON: The leader of the pro-Kurdish party, Selahattin Demirtas is taking a moderate path. He's called on the PKK fighters to lay down their weapons - so far to no avail. Analyst Soner Captagay at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy says Demirtas now finds himself under fire from both the government and the more radical PKK leadership. What ordinary Kurds here see ahead is another season where violence threatens to hijack their political aspirations. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Diyarbakir, Turkey. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.